AT&T May Have To Let All iPhone Users Video Chat

3g facetime

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Three groups sent a letter to AT&T today warning that if it goes ahead with plans to limit Apple’s FaceTime video chat, they are going to file a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission about it.Originally, FaceTime only worked on iPads and iPhones connected by Wi-Fi networks—a big limitation. 

Last month, AT&T said it would start letting FaceTime users chat over its cellular network—a feature Apple plans to roll out tomorrow as part of its update to iOS, its mobile operating system—but only if those customers bought a new data plan called Mobile Share.

Some iPhone and iPad users signed up for AT&T service under unlimited data plans that AT&T no longer offers to new customers. These customers are the main ones affected by AT&T’s restriction. AT&T’s hoping to get them to drop the unlimited plans and sign up for new ones which offer a fixed amount of data every month. (They can still use FaceTime over Wi-Fi.)

The advocacy groups Free Press, Open Technology Institute, and Public Knowledge, are more worked up over the idea that AT&T is fooling around with which apps can run over its network, in violation of a principle known as network neutrality [PDF]:

“Making mobile use of the application available only to those customers who pay for unlimited voice and text messages harms individuals and innovation alike. We ask instead that AT&T make this core feature of the popular iPhone and iPad devices available to all of its customers, in compliance with the Open Internet rules …”

Those rules are suppose to stop carriers from picking and choosing which apps run over its network.

“It’s particularly outrageous that AT&T is requiring this for iPad users, given that this device isn’t even capable of making voice calls,” Free Press policy director Matt Wood also said in an email, according to Network World.

AT&T could not be reached for comment. But Bob Quinn, senior vice president for federal regulatory affairs, previously blogged about why AT&T doesn’t think its decision violates the FCC’s rules. Quinn says the rules don’t apply for apps preloaded on phones, like FaceTime—they only apply to apps that users download.

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